I spent a long weekend with a friend in the city recently. She flew in for a conference on community wildfire preparedness and awareness and I drove up from the desert so we could enjoy each other’s company in between sessions.
Early one morning, I walked down to the hotel lobby to get coffee and as I stood in line, a concierge asked what exciting plans I had for the day. With my graying hair, I’m unaccustomed to being approached by young men so I glanced to either side to make sure it was actually me he was addressing. Well, I’m a… a… photographer, I stumbled, the words rolling around in my mouth like the streambed pebbles I had taken pictures of the day before. I volleyed back and forth, all in a split second, about whether I could call myself that name. I have a website, I make a few dollars though not a living, it’s my primary creative expression as well as how I spend the bulk of my time, yet is it I who gets to make that determination or someone else. I live near Moab and Canyonlands National Park and generally photograph the desert, but today I’m going to venture into the canyons of the city, I quipped.
Later that day, I took my camera and ventured downtown through the cold shadows and blinding reflections from the storied layers of glass and stone. Memories of meetings in the those steely kivas of financial smoke and mirrors while still a student skittered around the sidewalk along with fragile, fallen leaves. The lofty views and the promised possibilities pecked on those office walls now lost and buried in the detritus of time and done trying.
I watched two homeless men store Styrofoam containers of other people’s leftovers in an abandoned newspaper vending hutch across from a GreenBikeShare dispensary. I walked by a line of commuters waiting for TRAX, each face stained by the glow of a smartphone screen. I didn’t stop walking. I didn’t take pictures.
I returned to the inner courtyard of the hotel where an array of maples, hackberry, and tulip trees had scribbled their Crayola color leavings all over the manicured lawn and shrubbery. A few hangers-on writhed high above in the light breeze. I pulled out the camera and started shooting.
It’s not that I’m insensitive to other’s suffering and boredom. I’ve held tight to the thin thread that links poverty with prosperity a time or two in my life and I have a smartphone that I whip out whenever an interruption or delay in the flow of attention arises. I realized though, for me, photography is not a spectator sport – not for me as a photographer being watched as I take a photo or for me as a photographer capturing images of other people.
As I peered up at the many flights and floors I’ve watched my own story evolve from – a tier up, a tear down, each account leaving stretch marks on my view of what it means to be human, I considered how maybe the hesitant story I told the young hotel clerk was primarily about exploring and doing and becoming. Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law, and as an accountant, I practiced accounting. Practicing photography, I take photos of what moves me based on my tools, prior experience with the subject matter, the light, and other variables that inform good image making. I increase my skills by taking classes, engaging in research, and well, practicing, practicing, practicing.
We all have the opportunity to tell and shape our own stories and images.
Doing it makes it happen.
Keep doing it.
By Deborah Hughes
Very well written, and it resonates with me... on more than one level. One, I don't find much photographic inspiration in the small city in which I live in California's Central Valley. So, I practice my photography by photographing flowers, butterflies, and the odd natural scene, as well as the occasional sunset, which can be nice here. Exploring the Colorado Plateau over the last 17 years is what sparked my interest in photography. It's like, how can you not get interested in photography when you spend time out there? Also, you were an accountant... I made my living with numbers as well... first working with mountains of medical research data at UC Davis, then as a financial administrator. :-)
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